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  • Kathryn Patterson

If At First You Don't Succeed, Try, Try Again!

First found in "The Teacher's Manual" by American educator Thomas H. Palmer, the proverb "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again." remains good advice in all stages of life.  But while we adults know this proverb and can apply it at our discretion, children need to be taught to keep trying.  The question is, how? I know of two ways in which adults unintentionally discourage trying:

  1. Praising kids for being smart.  As counter-intuitive as this seems, if you want a child to perform well in school (the first place for her to shine), praise your child for all the effort she puts into her work, but do not praise her for her intelligence.  Children figure out on their own how intelligent they are in the scheme of things.  No child needs to be told, "You're smart." But every child needs to be encourage to keep trying.  Otherwise when a child is presented with a assignment that feels hard, she quits without really trying.  The internal feeling is, "Well, if I'm not smart enough to do this, then why even try."   

  2. Not letting kids be imperfect.  For all you Alanis Morrisette fans out there, remember the song, "Perfect"?  The song starts with "Sometimes is never enough/If you're flawless, then you'll win my love" and end with "We'll always love you just the way you are/If you're perfect".  Alana wrote this because she felt the pressure to never make mistakes - a pressure that parents sometimes put on their children (hopefully unknowingly).  For example, if you have a child going through speech therapy, a good speech therapist impresses upon the parents' not to correct their child's speech at home.  Why?  Because the child needs to be able to practice without censure.  Of if your child is learning to write, most teachers want parents not to correct any writing that child does at home.  Learning to write is a multi-stage process, and children need to practice each stage without constantly getting their work corrected.

As for how to encourage trying, I suggest you tell your kid that he has a super power - the ability to keep trying until he gets something right.  Then praise him for trying and let him do his best without jumping in to make everything perfect.

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